President G. W. Bush, press comments on the death of Terri Schiavo, March 31, 2005
I have held off commenting on the sad case of Terri Schiavo because I really did not have anything to add. I was and still am conflicted; I would like to think that I know what I would do in such a case. I hope that I can communicate to those who need to know my true wishes, so that no bitter family dispute can enter into an already heart-rending decision.
Part of what troubles me is what is termed "life-support" - the phrase conjures up mental images of respirators, heart-lung machines, and another devices. Not a mere feeding tube. The other part of what troubles me is the method of death - by starvation and thirst. Not a way I would choose to go. However, watching two grandparents die in similar fashion (by their choice to no longer eat) influences my thinking on this. I guess it comes down to this - no one really knew what Terri wanted, and there was no way to ask her. And once family politics got into play, there was no good way for this to end. (Note - I am aware her husband says differently, but there is no paper or recording to back him up. And his present girlfriend and children undermines his credibility somewhat, at least in my mind.)
The advancing tide of medical technology is creating situations where people ho could in no way survive a century ago are able to survive for years. Many with physical and mental handicaps can now live long and happy lives where a century ago they would have been trapped in poverty, abuse, and lonliness. Infants who could not survive can grow to happy, healthy and successful adults. And those who suffer from
But the ensuing public fracas has brought to my view a number of doctors and ethicists that are advocates of a frankly disturbing train of thought - euthanize handicapped infants, rather than let them grow to be a burden on society.
"Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all." Peter Singer, a bioethics professor at Princeton University, penned this line in his book Practical Ethics, along with this line: "Newborn human babies have no sense of their own existence over time."
There's more on this in Kathryn Lopez's piece in National Review.
Ms. Lopez notes:
Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, two doctors from the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands confessed that "it is difficult to define" who, among infants, can or should be eliminated. Babies, obviously, can't tell you their pain is unbearable, so it becomes incumbent on "parents and medical experts" to determine what "hopeless" means.
Already being quietly practicised in the Netherlands, there are people - doctors - who advocate its adoption here. Who would have thought that the heirs to Hippocrates - "first do no harm" - would seek the societal sanction of infanticide?
Invention in technolgy leads to innovation in its application, and revolution in society. This revolution shakes society down to its bedrock - but with the current bedrock of the Consitutional principles and traditional Judeo-Christian morals and ethics under steady assault for four decades, how much bedrock is left?
We are heading to a crossroads, and one road leads down a dark path where life, liberty, and the individual are dispensable quanities in the view of the state, easily eliminated should they prove too cumbersome.
The other road leads us to the next crossroads.